I know there’ll be some of you reading that headline and thinking: this guy needs a smack on the nose. And a fair few others thinking ‘who are The Clash?’ In response to the first I’d say: bear with me, as this is not as twattish as it sounds, and to the second I’d say The Clash were the greatest band to walk the Earth. If you need convincing of the latter, watch this. So, what am I talking about? One word: authenticity.
Write about what’s affecting you, what’s important1
The Clash were pretty much musical year zero for millions of us in the late 70s/early 80s – politics translated into a musical style that took from rock, dub, reggae, 1930s jazz, Elvis, disco, calypso, hip hop and beyond. They were so punk, that the punk purists complained when they moved on from the iconoclastic three-chord style of songwriting. And that’s what made them authentic. They didn’t represent what was in vogue at the time, only themselves. They stood apart from their peers because they stood for something that was real. Issues that resonated. And they did it without posturing (hello Coldplay and U2).
It also explains why a band that split up 31 years ago still inspires such fierce, tribal loyalty.
What you gonna believe in?
And while I appreciate the heresy of linking the band to IT B2B marketing, we can all learn something from them.
All the big IT brands spend an age and a fortune trying to carve out some form of differentiation. But how different – or as marketing would have it – how ‘unique’ are they? Once you’ve looked at their propositions, it’s obvious they’re similar – so the only thing they’re competing on is price. And while that might work for a budget airline or Sports Direct, if you’re supplying complex IT services, that’s a massive danger. Let’s face it, there’s always going to be someone, somewhere working on a start-up who will claim they can do what you do – just cheaper. So, how do you generate sustainable loyalty? By being authentic. And if you don’t believe that, I’ve two names to throw at you: Trump and Corbyn.
If you want to look at a brand that’s doing it, then there’s Apple. Regardless of what you think about the company, its products or its slippery market share, it communicates authentically. We all know what it stands for, and why its customers believe it’s different. Now compare that to Dell or Lenovo and tell me what they stand for, or what their customers would say about them.
And why is that important? Because authenticity breeds loyalty – and loyalty suggests you may have a future. I read that half of S&P 500 companies won’t be an S&P 500 company in ten years’ time2. Now there’s going to be various reasons for this (new technology, changing consumer habits, managerial ineptitude) but the more that people believe that you represent something that’s real and not just a ‘tangible’ marketing buzzword, the stronger your neck is going to be when the axe is getting sharpened.
Separating the wheat from the crap
So if you’re still here, this is where authentic writing and marketing comes in. You’re not going to drive loyalty with meaningless stats or drivel about ‘leveraging’ this or ‘optimising’ that. You’ll do it by making what you do real. That means finding the human truth to a technical subject or another angle to an old problem. And then choosing language that people actually use to explain it. It’s not even that difficult really. All you need is confidence and a finely tuned BS detector.
In 1980 I was 14 years old. In the January of that year I bunked off school with my mates Colin and Sharon, jumped on a bus and paid £3 to see The Clash3 play live. It was like a UFO had landed and my mind was promptly blown. My mum and dad went nuts when they found out, but it didn’t stop me doing it the next month when the band played the Electric Ballroom (I think) in London. So why does any of that matter – and why am I still listening to them all these years later? There are loads of bands whose music I like, but only one I believe in. They were authentic. The real deal – that’s why I stuck with them and why they taught me everything I know about B2B copywriting.
1). Advice allegedly given to the band by their manager
2). Let’s face it, most stats are meaningless but if you are interested, this claim came from here
3). I wanted to use more Clash videos but couldn’t think of a way to shoehorn them in, but this one is great